Jamaica Red Cross Wisely Guarding Peach Beach

Last Friday, I called the Jamaica Red Cross to get an update on Peach Beach. Community groups in Discovery Bay are still fearful that one of these days they’ll wake up to find that the beach has been leased to the Guardsman Group. And privatised, just like Puerto Seco Beach! Then, even more dolphins will be excreting in the bay. In spite of all the scientific evidence confirming the destructive consequences of setting up a dolphin prison in the calm bay, greed has taken precedence over environmental protection.

When I called the Jamaica Red Cross, I kept on getting disconnected. I wondered if the humanitarian organisation was deliberately cutting me off in a vain attempt to avoid answering my questions. It turned out that the problem was not the Red Cross. It was the inhumane organisation, Flow/Columbus Communications Ltd., doing its usual unconscionable thing. I am tired of complaining about the bad service from Flow.

You’re in the middle of a conversation and, after a few minutes, you realise that you are talking to yourself like a mad person. I cannot believe that in the 21st century, Jamaicans cannot expect basic telephone service that actually works. Why do we have to keep paying for substandard service? And the competition isn’t any better. Switching from Flow to Digicel is like swopping white dog for monkey. And, yes, monkeys do come in white, as well as black.

LIVING IN A FOOL’S PARADISE

Incidentally, Flow is owned by Michael Lee-Chin, a man living in a fool’s paradise. In his capacity as chairman of the Government’s Economic Growth Council (EGC), he recently told a Gleaner reporter, covering the quarterly meeting of the EGC, that we must do “everything” to attract and keep foreign investors. I wonder if that includes prostitution.

It that wasn’t enough folly, Lee-Chin made this pronouncement at the EGC meeting: “We in Jamaica need to develop a culture of saving. We don’t save. We dis-save; we consume.” Who is this “we”? Is Lee-Chin including himself? As chairman of the National Commercial Bank, he is, supposedly, in a good position to know how little/much Jamaicans save.

But big banks, bought on the cheap, don’t tell the whole story about how Jamaicans manage the little money we have. Lee-Chin seems to have forgotten about the partner system that poor people have used for centuries to save money and pay school fees and other essential bills. From his lofty position as a billionaire in foreign currency, Lee-Chin can afford to diss poor Jamaicans who are barely managing to survive.

And, clearly, he is speaking to a very small sector of the society when he commands Jamaicans to invest in stocks and businesses. He gives more advice: “Own assets, own a home, pay down on something, pay down on a piece of land, join up in a partnership and do that.” How can someone scraping by on the minimum wage own any assets at all?

minimum-wage-1Two Saturdays ago, a man at Papine Market gave me a message for “dem.” I suppose he meant the politicians. It went something like this: “Miss Cooper, like how yu write inna newspaper, beg yu tell dem dat we don’t want Michael Lee-Chin fi run di country.” He didn’t elaborate, but I think I know why he said that. Lee-Chin no know wat a gwaan. Poor people a suffer. Dem naa no money fi invest!

YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

Mrs Lois Hue, Deputy Director General of the Jamaica Red Cross, reassured me that the organisation was not going to lease Peach Beach to the Guardsman Group or any of the other commercial enterprises that have been trying to get their hands on the property. Peach Beach was a gift to the Jamaica Red Cross from the Kaiser Bauxite Company. It was intended for youth development.

Since acquiring the property in 1976, the Red Cross has hosted youth camps; taught first aid, sign language and art and craft; offered swimming lessons; and given water safety training; A whole range of developmental activities! The main building on the property was damaged in a hurricane and this has somewhat hampered activities. The structure has not been repaired because of limited resources.

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Discovery Bay community groups are willing to assist with restoring the building and maintaining the property. On Labour Day last week, the Community Development Committee (CDC) and the Swimming Club did a major cleanup of the beach. They are committed to ensuring that Discovery Bay has a public beach that is in excellent condition. And the Red Cross wants to keep the beach open to the public.

Instead of giving away Jamaica’s beaches to foreign investors who export their profits, the Government should be ensuring that Jamaicans have access to public beaches. Poor people in Jamaica don’t have the means to invest in stocks and businesses. But they should be able to afford leisure.

Then there’s the whole other issue of how Kaiser came to own the beach in the first place.  If successive governments don’t stop selling off Jamaica’s prime assets to foreigners in the name of development, there won’t be much left for future generations.

Who Owns Jamaica’s Beaches?

UnknownEaston Douglas once took up a very big job that’s still not finished. I suppose it was much harder than chairing the board of the National Housing Trust. A board of ‘yes’ men and women makes things really easy for a chairman. This is particularly true if it’s a ‘bagasse’ board, accountable to no one.

As minister of environment and housing, Easton Douglas announced in 1995 that the Government had started to develop a policy for controlling access to Jamaica’s beaches. Nothing much has come of this promise after almost two decades. We are still stuck with a 1956 Beach Control Act.

According to that pre-Independence law, the Queen of England owns our beaches: “all rights in and over the foreshore of this Island and the floor of the sea are hereby declared to be vested in the Crown”. But even that outdated act does acknowledge the fact that the rights of the public have to be protected against selfish private-sector interests.

images-1Hotel owners, for example, can apply for a licence to operate ‘private’ beaches. But the act makes it absolutely clear that “licence shall not be granted under this section unless the Authority has certified that the issue of the licence is not likely to conflict with the public interest in regard to fishing, bathing, recreation or the protection of the environment”.

Now this ‘Authority’ is the very same Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) that appears to have given its stamp of approval to the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) to sell off protected public lands on Long Mountain to private developers. So I really don’t have much faith in the capacity of the NRCA to protect the public interest.

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

Two Sundays ago, I watched that episode of Anthony Bourdain’s travel series, ‘Parts Unknown’, which focused on Jamaica. Avoiding the well-known all-inclusive hotels in and around MoBay, Bourdain turned to Portland, where Jamaica’s upscale tourist industry started. And he didn’t paint the usual portrait of the island as ‘paradise’. He got it right.

Bourdain documents the sharp lines of division in our society. The programme wasn’t aired on CNN in Jamaica. Conspiracy theorists immediately came up with a wicked explanation. It was because Flow is owned by Michael Lee-Chin. He came off so badly in the show that he stopped the company from airing it.

When I checked with Flow, I learned that CNN sends targeted feeds to different markets. We get the Latin American and Caribbean feed. Bourdain’s show is not on our feed. It’s now on Vimeo.com.

Hopefully, either TVJ or CVM will negotiate the rights to air the episode. We all need to see it. It’s not a pretty picture of our country. The landscape is beautiful and the food is appetising. But the disparity between the rich and poor is rather ugly.

‘WHAT KIND OF PERSON”?

Perhaps Michael Lee-Chin should have been much more cautious about exposing himself to Bourdain. This is how Bourdain introduces him: “There are those who believe that the area can come back; that it must come back. That the future is in hotels and resorts and restaurants for wealthy visitors as it once was.

trident-castle“Take this place, for instance: the Trident hotel. Expensive, luxurious! Best of all, I’m the only guest. Oh, did I mention that it comes with a castle? What kind of person would own a building like that? Who? Why? Then this man arrived and kind of answered that question. All of this belongs to Michael Lee-Chin. Local boy-turned-billionaire. One of the richest men in the world. And my host. He’s invited me for dinner.”

With guests like Bourdain, you don’t need gatecrashers. Down the road at GoldenEye, St Mary, Chris Blackwell, another host, gets the full Bourdain treatment. It’s a case of show me your friends. This is how Bourdain puts it: “When Blackwell heard I wanted to visit the local fishermen, he hooked me up with his good friend, Carl, to accompany me.”

Apparently forgetting that this wasn’t a B movie, Carl Bradshaw acts quite ugly. One of the insistent fishermen tries to tell the truth as he sees it. Blackwell’s ‘development’ plan for Oracabessa will create major problems: “This going belong to di tourist. . . .  The native here don’t have no beach in a few months time.”

“JUST STOP BOMBO KLAAT TALK!”

Bradshaw menacingly responds, “Wi no care ’bout truth, man. Wi kill people fi truth, man.” And he shouts down the middle-aged fisherman, “Yute, yute, just stop talk! Mi seh just stop bombo klaat talk!” Bradshaw forces the fisherman out of the interview. And then descends into a pseudo-philosophical rant on “tolerance”!

The star of Bourdain’s show is Cynthia who, with her partner Dennis, runs a cookshop on Winnifred Beach in Portland. It’s the only public beach for miles. The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) tried to capture the beach for private use, promising that the public would still have access. Cynthia’s response is completely understandable: “We don’t trust them. So we do not believe what they say.”

The Free Winnifred Benevolent Society took UDC to court. Last month, before Bourdain’s travel show aired, they won the case. Their heroism is a part of Jamaican culture we definitely know. The barbed-wire fences that block public access to so many beaches around the island must be torn down. With no regard for Missis Queen and her untrustworthy deputies, we must claim the right to sovereignty over our own beaches.

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